November 14, 2012 02:00 PM by Veronica Dudo
Wolfgang Puck’s legendary name is known throughout the culinary world–respected by colleagues and beloved by fans. Born in Austria, Puck began his formal training at the age of 14 in 1963 and since then, he has become a world-renowned master chef and restaurateur who built an empire. Recently, the award-winning chef brought his innovative culinary creations to Savor Borgata, a food and wine event presented by the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. The new judge on Bravo’s hit reality series, Top Chef: Seattle dished about joining this season’s cast and what he has planned for the future!
Throughout his career, Puck embraced opportunities to share his love of cooking and expertise by appearing on numerous TV shows including his own Emmy-Award winning series, Wolfgang Puck which debuted on The Food Network in 2000 and ran for five seasons. The celebrity chef continues to build his brand with three separate companies that oversee his fine dining restaurants, premium catering services, fast-casual restaurants, books, food products, appliances and cookware.
With his culinary talent and unique skills, the 63 year-old has been the recipient of several awards and honors in his almost 50 year career including most recently the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation and was selected as the 2012 Pioneer of American Cuisine from the Culinary Institute of America. Puck is also the only chef to have won the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year two times.
This year, the fifth annual Savor Borgata featured the resort’s world-class chefs offering guests the chance to “sip, savor and celebrate” with Puck (Wolfgang Puck American Grille), Bobby Flay (Bobby Flay Steak), Michael Mina (SEABLUE), Michael Schulson (Izakaya), Stephen Kalt (Fornelletto), Geoffrey Zakarian (The Water Club), Thaddeus DuBois (Borgata Executive Pastry Chef) and restaurateurs Greg and Marc Sherry along with Chef Romeo DiBona (Old Homestead Steak House).
While spending time at the Jersey Shore for Savor Borgata, Puck hosted a cooking demo; held a book signing, in which he donated a portion of the proceeds to those affected by Hurricane Sandy; cooked for guests; and met with hundreds of fans. Before serving up delicious bites at the main event, Puck recalled the first time he ate a hotdog, talked about his love of traveling and his plans to open more restaurants!
How important is it for fans to have the opportunity to interact with their favorite chefs during Savor Borgata?
I think it’s a great event! Savor Borgata is always a great event because a lot of local people and people from far away drive here and in one night you can taste food from 10 different restaurants and drink all of the wines and enjoy the evening. It’s a great way for people to experience all of these fantastic chefs all in one night and meet the chefs! Everybody is at their station; they’re cooking up things so it’s good. I just did a book signing for two hours and we are donating part of it to the Sandy relief fund.
What was your experience like as a judge on the TV competition, Top Chef: Seattle?
Top Chef is a great show. I thought that some of chefs were pretty good; some of them were pretty bad so it was a good mixture of chefs (laughs). You can’t have all good or all bad because it gets boring so I think they really got a good crew. It was a lot of fun to see what people did and we did the first show in L.A. in our restaurant and it was amazing. I had people make omelettes and nobody could make a good omelette!
What is the story behind your choice of having the contestant make omelettes?
When I went to France to a restaurant, the chef and owner said, ‘You know how to cook?’ I said, ‘Yeah, for sure. I’ve been doing that for five years already.’ I was 18 or 19 and I had a little chip on my shoulder and he said, ‘Ok, make me an omelette.’ He looked and said, ‘That’s not an omelette–bring the garbage can over here.’ He threw it in the garbage and said, ‘Let me show you.’
When did you discover your passion for cooking?
My mother was a professional chef so I think that’s why I’m probably in that profession too although it could have happened anytime. I worked for a man in the south of France who started to cook when he was 50 and ten years later he had a three star restaurant. But, I started at 14.
I read that you traveled to London when you were very young which sparked your interest in traveling, is that true?
You are right. When I was 11 there was an organization called, Save the Children which takes care of underprivileged kids and I did not grow up that rich, obviously, so I was one of the kids who went there through that organization. It was the most amazing experience–even for food because it was the first time I ate Corn Flakes, the first time I ate a hot dog on an American Air Force base with some baked beans and I still remember the flavor of that.
Do you currently have any plans to open more restaurants?
Yes, we’re going to open more restaurants. Basically, I’m in the restaurant business so we open restaurants and do that more than anything and we have a deal in the Middle East so we’re going to open in the Middle East. I want to open one in Paris and one in London. We just opened a restaurant in Detroit, so I keep busy.
Photo Credit: Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa